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Is there any evidence which shows whether users are more likely to reciprocate positively towards a certain style of profile avatar?

For simplicity, let's break profile avatars into the following categories:

  • Logo
  • General photography
  • General Illustration
  • Self-portrait photography
  • Self-portrait illustration
Contextual scenario: Imagine that you, the client, have received an invitation to continue a business conversation via Skype. One of the first elements that you see when you search for the professional's username is their avatar. Would any of the above avatars reflect more positively or more negatively upon the reputation that the professional has thus far projected.

Please reference research where possible

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    Trust for what purpose? – Christian Aug 7 '14 at 15:10
  • I've replaced trust with reciprocate positively towards so as to clarify a more general direction. Do you think writing an example scenario would better illustrate my question? – Benjamin Aug 7 '14 at 17:43
  • reputable for whom? who is your target audience? – Chairman Meow Aug 7 '14 at 18:41
  • I agree that context is important. What might reciprocate well in a designer to designer situation might reciprocate differently for a client to designer situation. I have added a contextual scenario to the question. – Benjamin Aug 7 '14 at 19:08
  • perhaps helpful, for your reference: gigaom.com/2009/07/16/6-tips-for-better-branding-using-avatars – Chairman Meow Aug 7 '14 at 20:38
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I also agree that gender neutrality is very important with a default avatar, and breaking away from that default avatar is important. However since the goal of the avatar is also to help identify who the person is in a list, having variety can be important, and as designers we may have to accept the fact users may not upload their photos (so we may as well make the avatar still useful for others)

In other words, I really like how github will assign you an "identicon" which is a default avatar, but they have enough variety to help you recognize a color/shape when you return to that user's profile (if the user decides to not upload a photo of course). I've duplicated this idea in several projects and have received very positive feedback. github identicons

Another company that does something similar is 37 signals in their project: Basecamp (project management tool) They are the authors of a book called "rework". They have a really awesome blog post on that entire process here

Another method I've seen actually involves creating a random color for you and placing either

  • A) the typical default avatar silhouette with different background colors OR
  • B) selecting the first letter of your name and including a random background color.

Hopefully that helps/makes sense :)

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Partial answer: We try to always use a gender neutral avatar that's an actual, default avatar. I think that breaking away from the 'Myspacey' look of old fashioned avatars is key, and I think doing everything you can to get people to not even use the avatar and upload a profile photo immediately in the first place is even better.

We've done that in two unique instances now for clients, and it's worked out very well with the overall UX for the apps.

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